Selling Books to the Christian Market
by Bette Filley
I had to laugh when a speaker at a recent publishing event said that publishers of Christian books are lucky because, thanks to Christian bookstores, we have no marketing problems. He had obviously never tried to get a Christian book into a Christian bookstore.
The sad truth is, for the vast majority of small publishers and self-publishers who do Christian books, Christian bookstores have “Closed” signs on them, partly because they don’t want to gamble on a book that may involve doctrinal issues, denominational issues, or controversy. They thrive on “safe” books by well-known personalities and popular Christian authors.
Virtually all their buying is via Christian distributors. They quote the old saw, “We can’t afford to write 1,000 checks for 1,000 books; we want to write one check for 1,000 books.” But when you approach a Christian distributor, you run into the next bad surprise. The distributors tell you to come back when you have 10 books. They don’t want to deal with little guys either.
And those 1,000 books the stores talk about paying for with one check? If you’ve been in Christian bookstores lately, you’ve probably noticed that many don’t carry anywhere close to 1,000 titles. In fact, many are not even bookstores any more. Books may occupy just one tiny corner in a store full of T-shirts, music, wedding supplies, toys, wall décor, and a wide variety of other nonbook merchandise.
In spite of the fact that Christian bookstores do have a devout little following, hundreds of them have not been able to survive competition from big-box stores, church bookstores, gift shops, and dozens of other outlets which have discovered that Christian merchandise sells. Competition is why about 300 Christian bookstores are closing their doors each year.
Fortunately for Christian publishers, Christian books now sell virtually everywhere.
Outlets That Are Open
So where should publishers of titles for the Christian market concentrate marketing efforts? The answer to all things Christian lies in the Gospel, which means the Good News, as in, “Go ye into all the World and preach the Gospel unto all creatures.” Notice it doesn’t say “Go ye into all the Christian bookstores.”
If “the world” is our marketplace, that opens up limitless possibilities.
Many secular bookstores, both chains and independents, welcome new small-press books, including Christian books. They’ll gladly take a Christian customer’s money for a book the Christian bookstores won’t carry. Libraries, too, buy thousands of small-press and self-published Christian books. Church bookstores and church li braries are another growing market for books that fit their beliefs.
Still more Christian books sell online through BN.com, Amazon.com, eBay, Borders.com, Books-a-Million, and hundreds, if not thousands, of authors’ and publishers’ Web sites and chat groups.
And don’t forget the big-box stores such as Costco and Sam’s Club, both of which sell a lot of Christian books, including an occasional small-press Christian title. (Costco buyers “discovered” one of my self-published titles once and placed a nice big order when I hadn’t even approached them.)
Mail sales can be huge. These include sales via direct mail, book and nonbook catalogs, and card decks. Book clubs are another huge direct-mail market. And homing in on specialized readers can pay dividends even though it’s expensive.
Radio and TV are also getting into the act, with interviews and appearances generating hundreds of book sales. Book infomercials sell some Christian books. And QVC and other home-shopping networks sell them too. (Don’t laugh; several authors have used them very successfully. Joanna Lund, a Christian cookbook author, sold more than a million books on QVC.)
Still more Christian books are sold via rack jobbers in grocery stores, restaurants, drugstores, truck stops, and hospital gift shops, and, via magazine distributors, in discount stores like Target and Fred Meyer. Magazine distributors carry many Christian books and move a lot of them through other-than-bookstore outlets of every description, including military bases and airports.
Teaming up with clubs and organizations that will promote your book to members in exchange for a small percentage of book sales revenue works too.
Then there’s the teaching and speaking circuit—selling books via workshops, conferences, seminars, classes, and retreats, at the back of the room or with the price of the book included in the class fee. Community colleges offer many classes based on books, as do many private adult-learning centers. Exotic seminars complete with book sales are offered on tours such as Elderhostel trips and cruise ships (which have both bookstores and libraries on board).
You can sell still more Christian books by participating in BEA, library trade shows, and PMA marketing programs; by generating newspaper and magazine columns, interviews, and articles; by getting titles into museum stores, county fairs, book festivals, senior centers, employer-sponsored classes, and even gift baskets.
One of my personal priorities is going after premium sales to companies that buy in volume and give my book to their customers or clients.
Of course, word of mouth is still one of the best tools for selling a book (Christian or otherwise). One year on my way home from PMA Publishing University, I gave my elevator pitch to my airplane seatmate, and not only did he buy a copy, but the woman in the seat in front of us turned around and said, “I want one too.” That was two sales before the plane even took off.
So my answer to the question, How do you sell Christian books? is: Every way you can. I don’t take the fact that my books are not in Christian bookstores as a rejection by God, or a sign that I’m on the wrong track. I became a Christian through a book I bought in a grocery store, and come to think of it, that’s a perfect place for a Christian book to be.
Bette Filley is the author of 365 Ways to Market Your Christian Book: Specific People, Places, Plans, published by Dunamis House, P.O. Box 321, Issaquah, WA 98027. To learn more, email Bfilley@yahoo.com.
Christian Book Marketing Possibilities from A to Z
Adult learning centers, airport shops, associations, audiobooks, autograph parties
Baby shops, barber shops, beauty shops, big-box stores, book clubs, book expos
Cable TV, card decks, catalogs, charities, churches, conferences, cruise ships
Destination vacation packages, drugstores
Educational markets, 800 numbers, Elderhostel, elevator pitches, email sigs
Fairs, festivals, flyers, foreign rights, fundraisers, funeral directors
Gift baskets, gift shops, goodie bags, government agencies, grocery stores
Historical societies, home book parties, homeschoolers, hospitals
Infomercials, inspirational TV
Joining publishers’ marketing groups
Kinko’s, kit contents
Large-print editions, letters to the editor, libraries
Mail order, military (bases, organizations, schools, libraries), ministries, movies, museums
Network marketing, newsletters, newspaper serialization, newsstands, notecards
Offices, online bookstores, organizations, other versions
Pamphlets, postcards, premium sales, product placements, public speaking, publicity
Rack jobbers, radio talk shows, remainders, reports, restaurants, resorts, reviews
Schools, seminars, shipboard programs, souvenir stands, S.T.O.P. orders
Talk radio, talks, Target, teaching, tip sheets, trade journals, truck stops, TV
Walking-billboard clothing, Web sites, workbooks, workshops
Xtra-mile business practices—returning mail, email, phone calls, and faxes promptly
Yearbook of Experts, Authorities and Spokespersons (pay for a listing or display ad), YouTube